Expunging Criminal Records

Todd Liljenquist

Comments from the Director of Government Relations, Minnesota Multi Housing Association (MHA)

From the Rights Stuff Forum, April 2009

"The presumption for all criminal information is that it is public — our concern is providing an avenue that would make it easier to reclassify that information..."

- Todd Liljenquist

Comments from Todd Liljenquist

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Question: Does your organization have any particular position on the various bills that have been introduced to give offenders a second chance?

Todd LiljenquistTodd Liljenquist: The only bill that we testified and took a public position on was Senate File 560. There is a specific provision or two in there that we had concerns about. In general, our concern is making it too easy to get rid of criminal history information. The presumption for all criminal information is that it is public -- our concern is providing an avenue that would make it easier to reclassify that information, and either expunge it or restrict it to private. When our members go to do a background check on an individual prior to renting to them, that is information that we deem vital to making a decision whether or not they should be rented to.

When you talk about information deemed as vital, are you talking about a conviction record, an arrest record, or both?

Definitely conviction information is vital, but also other types of non-conviction information, as part of the overall picture of the applicant. If someone has been arrested several times for drug dealing or something like that, that’s information that our members would like to know. Although none of them may have led to a conviction, it certainly paints a picture of someone. If they were arrested, there was at least probable cause to make an arrest, which means that some burden has been satisfied. It’s information that we would like available, and for a number of reasons in addition to that. It’s not necessarily our position, but I know other groups have said that in order to hold law enforcement accountable for the actions they undertake, you need to make the information available.

Otherwise you have private arrests, and people are being detained, and it’s not public information. If a guy’s been arrested for domestic assault several times, it awfully hard to proceed with any action against that particular individual, if the victim doesn’t testify. So if a guy’s been arrested several times for that, it at least allows for an informed decision for the landlord.

Are there some reforms you might support, but not others?

We haven’t taken a position on it, but we are neutral on the concept of a “certificate of good conduct” -- the kind of deal where you say, I do have a conviction for drugs. I dealt drugs a number of years ago, but this piece of paper here says I’ve gone through the process -- I showed a court that I have reformed and satisfied all these requirements. Then it’s all out in the public, and you’re not sort of hiding information.

What would you say about a situation in which someone got in trouble with the law when they were 19 or 20. Now they are 40 years old and they haven’t done anything wrong for 20 years. Should a mistake they made when they were 19 still result in them not being unable to rent an apartment?

I would say a couple of things. There is currently a process for expungement, so if someone goes through those hoops and files a petition and is able to show a judge, “I have reformed, and here’s what I’ve done, here are the steps I’ve taken,” a judge does have the authority under the statute to expunge that.

Number two, if it’s been 20 years -- if someone dealt drugs or had a property damage conviction 20 or 25 years ago, and has been living at numerous properties since then and hasn’t had any other issues, I find it hard to believe that anybody would refuse to rent to that person. Because, in essence, when you do a background check and you see a gap between conviction and now, and that there was no additional criminal information available, well, that does show that they have done something to reform.

So there is an expungement process available, and on the other hand, the private market does work, in a lot of circumstances, if someone has shown, “Yes, I did do that, but I don’t have anything on my record since then.” Of course it depends on what the conviction was for -- some of the predatory offender, sexual assault kinds of stuff, those are obviously in their own category.

Are you saying that there are some crimes that are serious enough, that a landlord should not rent to this person?

I don’t want to say that, because I know that there are some properties that are equipped for that -- the landlord understands the issue and he knows what he’s getting into, he’s fully informed, and maybe he is better equipped to handle a first degree murderer, a former felon. But the information should be available. I certainly don’t want to imply that there are some crimes that should make someone unrentable, because no doubt there are properties out there that will rent to them and they should. They do end up living somewhere.

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